Ten Minutes with Jonie, Founder of ARTO Gallery

Jonie Oostveen introduced us to ARTO, an online app that allows you to discover and buy affordable art directly from your mobile phone. We found out how Jonie came up with the idea and what makes it different.

Tell us a little bit about your background!

I am Dutch, born in Korea and grew up in Holland. I get mistaken for a Japanese a lot, but I’m actually really, really Dutch. An example of how Dutch I am – did you know we triumphed the Giro d’Italia cycling race last night? I was overjoyed, he was the first Dutch man to ever win! Anyway, I have lived around the world. I have moved to Amsterdam, lived in the United States, studied in Taiwan, went to London for a bit, and worked in Paris as well! It’s been six years in Singapore now since I first joined a Dutch startup software company called E-buddy where we offered instant messaging services. I moved on to work for Spotify after that. During my time there, I came up with the idea of an online art gallery platform. I always wanted to try having my own start up, saw this as an opportunity and took it.

I love your online art platform app idea, it’s very refreshing to have art at your fingertips. How did the idea come to you and how did you make it happen?

I was looking to buy a piece of art, and after walking around many different galleries and finding myself staring at Google’s search bar while thinking about what I want, it struck me that we need an online art browsing and buying platform. I started reaching out to people on the streets and there were a surprising number who were very interested in Art, but they weren’t sure what they like until they see it. So I mashed up a few things together: Tinder’s swiping function – where you can swipe right for the Art pieces you like, Spotify’s recommendation feature – where we will pick up on your preferences, and recommend similar art styles to you, and Instagram’s scrolling feature – where you can view works with seamless scrolling. I am trying to democratise Art for everyone. So that is the story on how I incorporated ARTO in December 2015.

How did you came up with the name ARTO? Is there a significant meaning behind it?

I had other names in my mind, but all the URLs were taken up. From there, I started searching for the word “Art” in different languages. I found this man-made language called “Esperanto”, and the translation of Art is Arto. And the rest is history!

How do you choose the artists you show?

We have two value propositions. First, to help people discover and buy art at their fingertips. Second, is to reach out more to independent artists and galleries to help promote and sell their artworks. Artists can create an account on our website, upload their works and from there, we index the art according to recommendations and people who like that kind of art. For example, if you like black and white photography, our engine will match your preferences and only show works that align with you. We work with both online and offline art galleries and both local and international museums as well. While making it more accessible, we hope to bring art closer to the people. Sometimes enjoying art is difficult when it is all the way in Amsterdam for example, but with ARTO, you can view the pieces online! In the next couple of months, we are creating a new widget where we are going to tell you what art styles attract you based on what you like. So it will show things like “10% contemporary, 20% photography” etc. and from there, you get in tune with your artistic sides. 

What are your thoughts on the art community and market in Singapore as compared to elsewhere?

Although I was previously from the tech industry, I have been diving deeper into the art scene here while creating ARTO. The arts are getting pretty big here now in Singapore. I have been to the “Singapore Art Week”, Art Stage and Gillman Barracks, and I really enjoyed my time there. Our art scene is growing, slowly but surely. 

Is there an overarching philosophy that guides your life?

What I told myself at the beginning of the year was this –  “I am going to try and however it turns out it’s going to be okay.” Even if you don’t succeed, it will be a great experience. Go and enjoy the ride.

Your desert island choices for:

Book: I really love cycling and I will take “The Biography of Tyler Hamilton” anyday!

Movie: “Heat”

Any person in history for conversation: Steve Jobs, for the obvious reasons.

Check out ARTO Gallery here: http://arto.gallery